CARACAS – Caracas residents and business owners and opposition politicians on Thursday welcomed the end of a short-lived power-rationing plan in this capital, although they also urged the government to come up with a clear strategy for alleviating the nation’s severe electricity crisis.
Inhabitants of this sprawling metropolis responded to the government’s move to retract the plan with a mixture of relief and concern, saying the measure was ill-timed and sparked confusion due to a lack of information.
President Hugo Chavez announced the suspension of the rationing in Caracas shortly before midnight Wednesday – less than 24 hours after the plan was launched – along with the dismissal of Electricity Minister Angel Rodriguez.
The decision to suspend rolling blackouts of up to four hours per day was taken due to unwanted effects in the capital, Chavez told state television, adding that his government is “capable of recognizing mistakes and correcting them.”
The leftist president also said he called on Rodriguez to resign, noting “technical errors” such as power cuts in places where they should not have occurred and traffic lights left without electricity.
Electricity rationing will continue in the country’s interior because it has been applied “responsibly and without mistakes” in those areas, Chavez said.
The power cuts in the Caracas metropolitan area, home to roughly 6 million people, were to have lasted until the rainy season begins in May, with different sectors blacked out at different times, officials said.
Opposition and business leaders accused the government of poor planning, incompetence and failure to achieve consensus before going through with the power rationing in Caracas.
“What starts badly, ends badly. No one was consulted before this measure was introduced and you see the results,” according to Carlos Ocariz, the opposition-allied mayor of Sucre, one of the municipalities that make up the Caracas metropolitan area.
He called on people to sharply reduce their electricity consumption and said he remains on “alert for any incident or lack of service” because the electricity deficit of some 1,700 MW – according to official figures – is a problem that remains unsolved.
Meanwhile, Victor Garcia, who runs a electronics store in Caracas, told Efe he feared an increase in “inopportune blackouts” after the suspension of the rationing plan.
A December report by state electricity firm Corpoelec, published Thursday by the media, predicts a nationwide power collapse will occur sometime in April if water levels continue to fall at the Guri Dam, which supplies more than 70 percent of Venezuela’s electricity, and there is no decline in consumption.
Guri and other hydroelectric power plants that supply almost 90 percent of Venezuela’s electricity operate with water from the Caroni River, whose dams are currently almost 10 meters (33 feet) below normal levels.
Other recent government-ordered electricity saving measures have included reduced hours at shopping malls and shorter workdays for public employees.
The Chavez administration also has ordered manufacturers, shopping malls and large apartment complexes to reduce electricity consumption by 20 percent from 2009 levels.
The governor of the western state of Zulia, Pablo Perez, a Chavez opponent, on Thursday criticized the fact that the rolling blackouts will only be halted in Caracas.
He said that, with the scheduled four-hour cuts affecting his region every other day, “people are paying the consequences of an irresponsible government,” which “had planned to build 35 (electrical) plants but only four or five have been constructed.”
Government opponents and former top electricity officials say the crisis is due to a lack of official planning and failure to carry out a program of needed investments to boost hydroelectric and thermoelectric output.
Chavez has acknowledged a lack of timely investment in the electricity sector, but mainly blames the crisis on drought conditions resulting from the El Nińo weather phenomenon and the “wastefulness” of consumers. EFE